PSYCHOLOGIST JONATHON BROWN at the University
of Washington let a hundred and seventy-two people play a computer
word game. Eighty-one of the people tested high in self-esteem,
Ninety-one tested low. Half of them, randomly selected, played
a version of the game too difficult to do in the allotted time.
In other words, they were destined to fail the game no
matter how hard they tried.
After the game, everyone evaluated their
The people with high self-esteem didn't
feel very badly about the failure. The ones with low self-esteem
felt humiliated and ashamed, and they rated their own intelligence
and competence more negatively after the failure.
The reason I'm bringing this up is because
if you happen to think in a way that produces lots of negative
feelings after a failure, it would naturally increase your anxiety
in anticipating events. In a very real sense, you have
more at stake than someone who doesn't feel badly after failing.
If you don't feel very bad after a failure, why would you be
nervous beforehand? You wouldn't. But if you have to pay dearly
with suffering every time you fail, anxiety would be the natural
concomitance of anticipating just about anything, especially
Brown's study was about self-esteem, but
keep in mind that the most effective way to raise your self-esteem
isn't to try to convince yourself you're a great person, it is
to argue against your irrational thoughts, and argue with
them so effectively and so relentlessly that you change the way
you think when you hit a setback. Read more about that here.
When you think sanely about failure, setbacks
won't stop you from trying again. So you try again, and by taking
more action, you learn more, which increases your competence,
and that is the real source of self-esteem. People think well
of themselves because they know they can handle it. They know
they can handle it not because they try to convince
themselves they can handle it, but because they've tried things
and found out they can handle it. And they try things
because they know they can handle it, so once you change the
way you think after a failure occurs, you begin a productive
upward spiral of competence and self-esteem, a positive feedback
This is the way to stop beating yourself
up after a failure. This is how to stop feeling bad when you
don't do as well as you'd hoped. This is the way to cure your
fear of trying new things. Change the way you think about failures
and setbacks. Train yourself to be more rational after a failure.
Your competence will grow as a result, and so will your feelings
In the book, On Being a Writer, there is an excellent
interview with Ray Bradbury. On this topic, he said, "The
average young person you meet today seems to have the motto,
'If at first you don't succeed, stop right there.' They want
to start at the top of their profession and not to learn their
art on the way up. That way they miss all the fun. If you write
a hundred short stories and they're all bad, that doesn't mean
you've failed. You fail only if you stop writing. I've written
about 2,000 short stories; I've only published about 300 and
I feel I'm still learning. Any man who keeps working is not a
failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies to old-fashioned
virtues of hard, constant labor, he'll eventually make some kind
of career for himself as a writer."
Setbacks or failures don't have to make
you more afraid. They can be the impetus that motivates you to
change the way you think about failure, and that can turn your
life in a positive new direction.
After a setback, argue with
your negative thoughts.